The question is simple: What did you win by playing sports?
The answers are as varied and individual as the women who play sports, watch sports and write about sports. There might be universal truths, but in the end, the only truth that matters is the one we create for ourselves.
It seems a silly notion to us now that women were discouraged from physical activity for fear of damaging their reproductive organs. Granted, I don’t know how common the adage was that if you engaged in exercise your uterus might fall out, but the folklore underscores the different ways in which girls and women (of a certain class mind you) have been discouraged from sports participation.
And yet, participate we do. In all varieties and styles. From organized team sports to professional leagues to Olympic aspirations. We run in 5Ks for fitness and find a meaningful connection in our running clubs, teams and gymnasiums of choice. We can be competitive. We can be social. We can be both at the same time.
Today is Rally for Girls Sports Day, sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center. The beauty of such a day is that it helps underscore something we tend to forget — women are not a homogenous group. We don’t all think alike. We don’t all hold the same beliefs. We are diverse. Some of us love sports and exercise. Some of us love competition. Some of us love to watch women’s sports. Some of us would rather watch NASCAR and the NFL than the WNBA.
And my unwavering belief is that there is room for all.
So what did I win by playing sports?
My true self.
A good friend of mine refers to me as an “adult onset athlete.” She’s right. While around sports my entire life, indeed building my entire career on sports, I never participated or competed until my 30s. And what I found when I started triathlon and all its component parts was a long neglected part of myself.
By running, cycling and swimming I was able to connect with my source of strength and my center of wisdom. I was able not just to see possibilities but to pursue them. I was no longer held back by doubts and what ifs. Oh, those negative thoughts still travel through my mind, but these days, they don’t divert me quite as much as they once used to.
Sports allowed me to start playing big in my own life, in ways in which I recognized and cherished and understood.
It’s an opportunity that is precious to me, and one that I wish everyone — regardless of age, gender or economic status — has the chance to experience.